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Chicken Licken in a legal flap again over claim of sole rights to ‘soul’

The fast food chain is accused of aggressive litigation as it pursues another small business

01 March 2022 - 17:55
Chicken Licken in Jabulani Mall, Soweto, one of about 250 outlets nationwide.
Chicken Licken in Jabulani Mall, Soweto, one of about 250 outlets nationwide.
Image: Freddy Mavunda

After seven months of legal breast-beating, the scale of Chicken Licken’s victory in a court fight about its “Soul Kitchen” trademark is similar in size to a hen’s tooth.

A Plettenberg Bay restaurant that changed its name from East Coast Soul Kitchen to Sol Kitchen to avoid the fast-food chain’s flapping legal wings has been ordered to fix two remaining mentions of its old name in its website’s “About us” section.

Cape Town high court judge Patrick Gamble said in his judgment on Tuesday: “I have little doubt that this is an oversight on the part of the restaurant in reconfiguring its website and I am certain that if it is offered the opportunity to correct same it will do so.”

Chicken Licken, with about 250 outlets in SA, has gone to court at least twice before in attempts to enforce its “Soul Food” and “Soul” trademarks, and lost on both occasions.

In a 2019 fight in the Durban high court with Oh My Soul Café, a vegan restaurant, judge Dhaya Pillay said: “In the spirit of ubuntu, Chicken Licken should encourage rather than restrain the use of ‘soul’ to mend our social fractures and fissures.

“Success against adversity means allowing small businesses to survive onslaughts by large, economically powerful corporates like the applicant.”

In 2020, the fast fried food giant lost a similar case in the Johannesburg high court after suing Soul Souvlaki, which sells Greek street food from several locations in Gauteng.

Soul Souvlaki saw off a high court challenge to its name from Chicken Licken but the fast-food chain has approached the supreme court of appeal.
Soul Souvlaki saw off a high court challenge to its name from Chicken Licken but the fast-food chain has approached the supreme court of appeal.
Image: soulsouvlaki.co.za

Judge Seena Yacoob said Chicken Licken “cannot contend that only it has the right to exploit the culture and meanings associated with the words ‘soul’ and ‘soul food’. This would be impractical and chilling.” Chicken Licken has taken this case to the Supreme Court of Appeal.

Feathers flew again in July 2021 when Chicken Licken’s Johannesburg attorney, Ronald Wheeldon, wrote to East Coast Soul Kitchen demanding that it change its name.

Golden Fried Chicken CEO Chantal Sombonos-van Tonder.
Golden Fried Chicken CEO Chantal Sombonos-van Tonder.
Image: Chicken Licken

After an exchange of legal letters, Golden Fried Chicken — the owner of Chicken Licken — applied to the high court for an interdict, and CEO Chantal Sombonos-van Tonder filed an affidavit deploring the Plettenberg Bay bistro’s “combative and dismissive” attitude.

But George Frost, the owner, said he decided to change the restaurant’s name to Sol Kitchen to avoid “unnecessary and costly litigation”.

He said Chicken Licken’s strategy had been to intimidate restaurant owners with aggressive letters and litigation demanding that they cease to trade and disclose their earnings so an appropriate royalty payment could be calculated.

“[Chicken Licken] obviously has deeper pockets than [us], and even though we have an exceptionally strong case, a victory for us could cost us our entire business and livelihood,” he said.

“Very few if any small business like ours can survive a legal onslaught by large, economically powerful, multibillion-rand corporates like [Chicken Licken].

“This is a frivolous and vexatious ... lawsuit, not undertaken to be won necessarily but to intimidate us. It is a misuse and abuse of our legal system and constitutes nothing else than lawfare.”

Gamble said when he examined Sol Kitchen’s website in February, it was clear there had been a concerted attempt to change all mentions of the bistro’s name. However, two had survived.

He ordered their removal and dismissed both sides’ applications for punitive costs orders against the other.

“It cannot be said that either party has achieved substantial success in this battle, and it seems to me that the most equitable decision would be to order each to bear its own costs,” he said.

Chicken Licken was founded by Sombonos-van Tonder’s father, George Sombonos, in 1980. When he died in 2016, his daughter took over the business.


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